Sharks are Top Predator @ North Dorset Sevens
The early games were a smorgasbord of delights for the Sharks as they devoured their way through BaBaas, ‘Fish, Zebra and Shrimps before an excellent performance against the Godfathers in the cup Semi Final. Their deserved victory brought a first final of the summer against Bryanston Old Boys. A lack luster first half put the Sharks under pressure but Manoa Satala’s team rallied well to secure a win, which seemed very unlikely at the start of the second half. With only one tournament left the Sharks will travel to Harpenden in good form and spirits. It will be the only time this year that the three Service sevens teams are at the same tournament before the more traditional rivalry of the XV-a-side season resumes.
The Sharks opened the North Dorset Sevens tournament as the first match on pitch one against the Preseli BaBaa-s. Starved of possession early on it was refreshing to see that their defence was well structured and it repeatedly put the BaBaa-s under pressure. Eventually this told and from the turnover the Sharks attacked from deep with Marika Lavelawa crossing for the first try. Two more quick scores from Toots Vakaultukali and Sevanaia Naulago assured the win, well before half time. Seti Raumakita marked his return to the Sharks colours with a well taken try and a couple of telling breaks whilst the other Sharks scores came from Vivian Wilmot and Marcus Stevens. It was a comfortable start that allowed the Sharks to rotate their squad and get the travel out of the legs before the harder games to come.
Unfortunately #TeamFish were unable to provide a stern test. After a minute or so of early sparring the Sharks scored two clinical tries. The first from Manoa Sartala’s controlled ball at the lineout saw Seti straighten and commit two defenders before timing a deft pass to give Eldon Myers the easiest of run ins. The ball was reclaimed at the restart and this time the Sharks dummied to the open side before cutting back to attack the bind side. Ollie James took the out to in offload to score under the posts. For #TeamFish their heads visibly dropped and the contest was over. The half was completed by Sevanaia driving #TeamFish over their own goal line in the tackle before diving on the spilled ball for the score. Again the comfortable position on the scoreboard allowed the Sharks to rotate their squad. Vivian Wilmot was soon in the action winning good turnover ball at the tackle, Toots was at half back and Seti Raumakita was able to run in from sixty metres.
Disappointedly the match lost both its intensity and structure. The Sharks made a number of unforced errors, which though not costly, proved to be frustrating. However it is to their credit that they finished the match back on the front foot with Joe Nakavulevu going over for the fifth and final try. With the final pool match against Bloxham Zebras the Sharks were in pole position to top their group.
The Sharks v Zebras match was by far the best game of the pool stages and it was rewarding to see the Sharks lift their play to meet the increased threat. Their defence showed an intensity that gave the Zebras little time on the ball and on the two occasions when their defence was breached there was a real desire to track back and cover. In attack they were far more patient and were able to retain possession for longer periods and keep the ball away from needless contact. In the first half Jordan followed up a poachers try with an excellent team try when the Sharks put numbers in to the narrow blindside and were precise with their inter passing. In the second half Ollie James scored the Sharks’ third try following a strong run from Manoa Satala that drew three defenders. It was then that the Sharks lost Seti Raumakita for a dangerous tackle. However they lifted their defence and with only six on the pitch kept the pressure on the Zebra’s attack. It was fitting that it was this pressured press defence that caused the turnover that led to their fourth and final try of the match. Again it was Sevanaia Naulago who reclaimed the loose ball and touched down in the corner. 26 – 0 was the final score and the Sharks topped their pool to go forward to the knock out stages. As importantly they had kept their goal line intact through three matches and had ironed out some of the technical issues from the early games.
The quarterfinal draw continued the food theme for the Sharks with a match against the Shrimps. To the delight of the Navy supporters the Sharks continued to improve their performance and never gave the Shrimps a sniff of a chance in the game. From the kick off Manoa Satala took the ball fed Toots Vakalutukali and the score was 7-0. The restart was reclaimed and the ball retained until Jordan Shuttleworth was set free to extend the lead. A second Shuttleworth try before half time further emphasised the Sharks superiority.
Though their intensity dipped a little in the second period the Sharks were still too strong for the Shrimps. Ollie James was dominating the breakdown and the press defence coped easily with the few times that the Shrimps threatened. Shuttleworth crossed for his third before Tony Pitts galloped in from sixty-five metres to bring up the thirty points. With time almost up the Sharks were able to retain possession and a second try from Toots converted from wide out by Sevanaia Naulago was just reward for the Sharks best performance in the competition thus far. 40-0 and yet to concede a try the Sharks could look forward to a semi final against the tournament co-favourites The Godfathers.
It was the Godfathers who settled first and following a miss tackled on the Sharks right broke the length of the field to score in the corner. Having conceded their first score of the day it was interesting to see how the Sharks would respond. With patience they built the pressure, kept possession and probed the Godfather’s defence. Eventually Naulago sensed the opening and put Eldon Myers in under the posts for the Sharks first try. 7-5 lead at half time was soon extended by the Sharks when their aggression at the tackle was rewarded by a break down the middle for Jordan Shuttleworth to score his fifth try of the day. The conversion extended the lead to two scores and it was appropriate that it was Sevanaia who extended this lead following a cheeky short drop out, where he reclaimed his own kick and broke the tackle to go under the posts for the Sharks third try. The game was wrapped up when after some more good Sharks defence the Godfathers spilled the ball. From the ensuing scrappy play the ball was seized upon by Toots Vakalutukali feeding Marcus Stevens to cross for the fourth and final try. A very satisfying 26-5 meant the Sharks were through to their first final of the summer.
Whether it was the warm weather or just the occasion but the start of the final was not what was planned. More basking shark than top predator their start was simply not up to the standards they had set themselves throughout the day. Six unforced errors in the first half gifted Bryanston OBs three tries and a 15-0 half time lead. The break couldn’t come soon enough but worse was to follow as at the restart the Navy Sharks captain, Manoa Satala, miss-timed his tackle, caught the player in the air and was despatched for two minutes to the sin bin. Perversely this may have turned out to be a blessing in disguised. Reduced to six men the remaining Sharks had to lift their game. To their credit having got themselves well and truly into a mess they set about getting themselves out of it.
Immediately after being reduced to six the Sharks were on the scoreboard when a half break by Toots was taken on by Phillips and Shuttleworth before Eldon Myers crossed for the try. The conversion was made and the game was 15-7. It was soon 15-12 when Jordan Shuttleworth added the second try when he won the chase to reclaim his own kick ahead and crossed unopposed. Two tries with a man short had raised Sharks spirits but immediately on returning to a full complement another unforced error gifted Bryanston their fourth try and the lead was stretched to 20-12.
Time was running out. From the restart Toots secured possession and it was Jordan who broke the tackle to score his second and bring the score back to 20-19 and raise the Navy’s hope. The Sharks kept the pressure up and from the restart some strong tackling secured the turnover and Toots Vakalukali seized the opportunity and scooted in from forty metres giving the Sharks the lead for the first time. With the conversion missed the game was in the balance as the referee ruled there was time for the restart. The Navy Sharks secured possession and rather than run the clock down pressed for a final try. It should have gone to Sevanaia Naulago, tied on six tries with Jordan Shuttleworth, but he stepped over the dead ball line before he touched down. A brief discussion between referee and assistant ensued before the score was ruled out but with time up the final whistle blew and the Sharks had their tournament victory. A strange end to a topsy turvy match. However this will be lost in time but the Sharks name on the cup, as 2014 winners, will be engraved for prosperity.
The win allows the Sharks to approach Harpenden in good mood and form. They have the ability to do well in the tournament if they build on the strengths they showed at North Dorset. They need to confine the first half of the final to history and remember the intensity of their defence, the physicality shown at the breakdown and the clinical attack that resulted in some great tries. In four weeks time we’ll know the answer as the Sharks bring their 2014 season to a close.
M Satala (Capt), W Vakalutukali, M Lavelawa, S Naulago, T Pitts, V Wilmot, T Trehan, J Shuttleworth, M Stevens, O James, S Raumakita, E Myers, J Nakavulevu
Harpenden National Pub Sevens, Sunday 24 August 2014
Article by G Ashton Jones
Images by Alligin Photography / © G Ashton Jones